The December survey of ConservativeHome readers revealed the smallest possible majority in favour of sending extra British and American troops to Iraq if they could bring peace. Last week David Cameron had agreed that extra US troops might be the right approach. Later today George W Bush is expected to announce a ‘surge’ in US troop deployments of 20,000. He has finally decided to step away from the ‘light footprint’ approach – favoured by Donald Rumsfeld but, unfortunately, there are only likely to be 20,000 extra pairs of feet and not the 50,000 increase many think necessary.
"Visitors to America often remark on that popular T-shirt slogan usually found below a bold Stars and Stripes: "These Colors Don’t Run." To non-Americans it can seem a trifle touchy. But for a quarter of a century the presumption of the country’s enemies was that those colors did run – they ran from Vietnam, they ran from the downed choppers in the Iranian desert, they ran from Somalia. Even the successful campaigns – the inconclusively concluded 1991 Gulf War and the air-only 1999 Kosovo war – seemed manifestly designed to avoid putting those colors in the position of having to run. As Osama saw it, those colors ran from the African embassy bombings and the Khobar towers, just as Zarqawi figured those colors would run from the Sunni Triangle. Being seen not to run – or, if you prefer, being seen to show "resolve" – should be the indispensable objective of US froreign policy. Were these colors to run from Iraq, it would be the end of the American era – for why would Russia, China or even Belgium ever again take seriously a superpower that runs screaming for home at the first pinprick?"
ConservativeHome fully the supports the idea of an increase in troop deployments in Iraq and has been advocating an increase since November 2005. There must be a real danger that George W Bush’s surge of 20,000 is too little, too late, however. Most of the advocates of a surge think that at least 30,000 troops and probably 50,000 extra soldiers are needed to execute the clear-and-control operations that are necessary to bring order to Baghdad and hunt down the insurgents that operate from the Anbar province. President Bush will only get this one chance to correct the mistakes of his Iraq policy. He won’t get another opportunity to announce extra troop deployments – he should announce one large and sustained surge today.
It is also important that there are other changes to strategy in Iraq. The Iraqi government must make it clear that any insurgents arrested by coalition troops will be detained and prosecuted. There have been too many examples of the Iraqi government acting in a sectarian way – releasing ideological or religious allies. Faster approval of reconstruction spending and more active attempts to stop insurgents crossing the Iranian and Syrian borders are also vital. For more ideas see this in the Wall Street Journal and this from Victor Davis Hanson.
As I argued on 18 Doughty Street’s Worldview programme (due for broadcast at 8.30pm tomorrow) it is difficult to hope for any progress in the world’s major troublespots so long as America is weak or is perceived as weak. Libya voluntarily abandoned its WMD programme and Syria withdrew from Lebanon in that brief window after the fall of Saddam when America was perceived as strong. The world’s least attractive regimes have become increasingly assertive in rough proportion to America’s decreased resolve in Iraq. Democrat and popular opposition to extra troops looks likely to mean Bush’s necessary change of course will be inadequate tonight.